Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Smell the Coffee (2)

Continued from 'Smell the Coffee (1)'

The real challenge

Providing what I see as an indifferent service for the many and varied groups of users on the inland waterways.  Or alternatively  providing a good service for one group is the real way forward. This is where the niche associations will succeed. The rivers and canals have a very wide following including volunteers, restoration groups, cyclists, walkers, fishermen, conservationists, boaters and many others. For the all encompassing associations, trying to represent every interested party is no longer appropriate. There are now far too many different agendas to be set, far too many different agendas to be represented and far too many different agendas to be managed. There has been a significant change in users requirements and the old 'one size no longer fits all.' Walkers have their own representative associations and its the same with cyclists. The angling fraternity are very vociferous in representing their one issue. Conservation groups abound almost on a species by species basis.

Their one time role of large associations being a valuable watchdog, driving change and being the eyes and ears of their members. Has now devolved down to the on-line forums and the on-line magazines. 

But the future is not only looking grim for the large all encompassing associations. 

Is this the end of print

I can also see that some of the high-profile, glossy, monthly, print magazines addressing boats and boating issues are now paying the price and shutting up shop. Their circulation figures having been gradually falling for some time. The long lead time to react to the fast changing news means that print is now more archival than news carrying. Especially now with the coming of age of the genre specific, on-line forums allowing for the sharing of ideas and information in real time. There is no limit to the amount and type of information available. From the most trivial through to the ground shaking news stories. 

Every member of an Internet forum is a reporter, investigator and can set their own agenda. Every reader of an on-line magazine is encouraged to question and contribute. Marshall McLuhan said "The medium is the message" it was the medium itself that shaped and controlled the scale and form of human association and action. This is a very true statement of fact. Content is essentially what binds together the user experience. It may include, among other things text, images, sounds, videos and animations. This may include documents, data, applications, e-services, personal web pages, e-mail messages, and much much more.

Now with the adoption of tablet devices on the rise. Allied with the rapid improvement in the quality of digital publications. The digital world now has its tweets, feeds, blogs and apps providing a never ending source of information that individuals can tailor to their own needs. There is a demand for on-line magazines to do more than merely replicate the content of print titles. On-line magazines can and do lead opinion. The on-line counterparts to the old print magazines are providing fresh news and informed commentaries on a broad range of waterways issues. The range of issues is now being dictated by the readership. The amount of advertising revenue needed in support of digital publication is minimal. Many carry no advertising at all. Their main strength coming from operating in an "Internet troll" free environment and once again, this is all done in real time. 

Social networks

A lot of people have discovered the ease of sharing their opinions and on-line voices from writing blogs and sharing in and on social networks. Removing forever the "short on-line attention span" myth. Now the on-line magazines have tapped into this source. Encouraging regular columnists, to give their informed opinion. Encouraging occasional contributors to fly a kite and stimulate discussion.  

There is the readers almost instant email replacing the old readers letters page. There is no interest in creating printed throwaway media any longer. There are no editions, its a continuous, rolling publication - that varies its output almost on the hour - depending on current waterways affairs. An additional function of digital media is the search function, which is providing a time line perspective of change.  Where old stories can be retrieved in chronological order, in an instant. Long gone are the days of back copies of newsletters on coffee tables. Today people want it either on their Kindle or on their multifunctional mobile phone.

Internet Forum

At the same time Internet forums are also a specialised niche  The two ends of the forum spectrum can easily be found. Some are closely monitored to filter out any objectionable content. Others are the equivalent to the wild west and provide a children's sandpit for the trolls to play. I find it edifying to see any innocuous question turned into a battle of supremacy of one troll over another. Providing an instant, handy relief for their angst, prejudice and spleen. With nothing to offer these keyboard warrior become a legend in their own mind.

Paper or electrons

Age demographics and a willingness to take up new technology even by the wrinkled generation is a significant driver. A recent on-line survey has highlighted that UK print magazines are finding that the cost of product remains a significant issue for buyers. Overall 60% of UK magazine buyers now prefer digital to print. Men have taken to on-line options with significantly greater enthusiasm than women. Men are three times as likely to read on-line compared with women. The on-line world is a fast changing place and it you can't run with the pack, you will soon be left far behind.

There is still room for the small specialist associations that address a specific niche, to continue to prosper in the world of the inland waterways. Especially where the rate of change is relatively slow, as you might find with the restoration groups. However, even the role of small niche groups has changed over recent years. Utilising the Internet allows for faster responses to changes that still raise issues for their slower way of life.

Blogs and lists

Blogs are however a slightly different case. They are generally based around one man or woman's opinion. A sounding board where people can just do their own thing. The content is deliberately tailored to a niche audience. Usually made up of like minded individuals. Ranging from dear diary to open letters, tonight's menu or today's cruise. Each represents the individuals viewpoint and in their own way each play a vital role. People can if they wish post their thoughts and pose questions, just to continue a one sided discussion. 

One of the strong points of blogs is that an individual dialogue can be created between the blogger and the reader. By the simple step of posting a comment. However, at the same time there is an inherent weakness and that is, blogs can and do, come and go. 

There are wonderfully written blogs that really do entertain. yet even they can sometimes fall by the wayside, because the blogger has a personal reason to abandon the blog. However, they still contribute long afterwards because they are generally available for posterity. If you believe that blogging and blogs are only successful if they are widely read. You fail to see the true value and to take on-board the wider perspective. Blogs provide an ever changing viewpoint on any given topic. The topic of the inland waterways is not a unique one. Every waterways blogger has an opinion, every blogger has their own prejudice. However, when the content from many blogs is amalgamated together, they actually provide great insight on the day to day waterways life. 

Maybe the last to look at are the closed mailing lists. I am on a few closed mailing lists. One is a small niche organisation and is the way the membership who are in boating terms constantly on the move, and provides a way of keeping in touch. This mailing list works very well because a large number of the small membership add content on a frequent basis. It is used for conducting all the group business as well as day to day chatter. It's fit for purpose and a good example of the digital future.

Continued in 'Smell the Coffee (3)'

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